The purpose of this blog is to explore and extend new ideas in conservation. Sometimes we will post short articles that reflect our current research, thinking and work, at other times we will comment on current issues and debates. We hope you find this blog interesting and we welcome comments and feedback

Richard J. Ladle

Friday, 13 November 2009

Koalas last stand?

The BBC reported today (11th November 2009) that “Australia's koalas could be wiped out within 30 years unless urgent action is taken to halt a decline in population, according to researchers”. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/8352107.stm).
The report goes on to describe how “development, climate change and bushfires have all combined to send the numbers of wild koalas plummeting” and that “many have been killed by the sexually transmitted disease Chlamydia”. Not a nice fate!

The report is well written, factually accurate and has impeccable sources (The Koala Foundation and one of the World’s leading biogeographers, Professor Hugh Possingham). But is it right? Will koalas go extinct within 30 years?

To try to answer this question we need to first ask what is meant by extinction? In this case, although not stated, extinction probably means extinction in the wild as there is a relatively large global breeding population in zoological parks.

Next, we need to answer the question: would Australia ever let the koala go extinct? As one of the world’s most developed countries with a strong tradition of conservation it is almost inconceivable that if the koala population continues to plummet both public and private resources will not be thrown at the ‘koala problem’. Of course, these initiatives may not succeed but the odds are good given the koalas status as a global icon and flagship for Australian biodiversity.

By contrast, there are many lemur species in Madagascar that are also undergoing serious decline and whose prognosis is far bleaker. Madagascar is a challenging country to do conservation. Politically unstable and without a strong tradition of conservation, conservationists often have to work without high levels of political or public support.

How to overcome these cultural and institutional barriers to deliver high quality conservation where it is most needed is perhaps the greatest challenge for modern conservation. One thing is certain, science is no longer sufficient to assess genuine risk of extinction – we also need to draw on insights from politics, economics, anthropology, etc.

Read more about Paul and Richard’s ideas about biocultural conservation at: http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/119881257/abstract?CRETRY=1&SRETRY=0

1 comment:

  1. Apparently doing far too well on Kangaroo Island (South Australia), where introduced and becoming a pest (defoliation) - see Masters et al (2004) Wildlife Research 31(3) 267 - 272